Author's Note: The following story was largely inspired by Who Dares, Wins by Fox Sannin's Concept Corner. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys Naruto fanfiction, or even simply reading fanfiction that doesn't suck. It's one of those rare gems that make wading through the gallons and gallons of "meh" on this site worth it. It may also be worth reading if you are not a fan of Naruto because his un-ninja-ness offends your sensibilities.
Disclaimer: Naruto is a Shonen Jump publication written by Masashi Kishimoto. I am neither Shonen Jump nor Masashi Kishimoto. If that doesn't say it all, I pity you for your lack of perceptive prowess, and strongly advise that you not pursue the way of the ninja.
The Possibilities of Time
- a Naruto fan-novel series -
That's Professor Hawke
Book I: "The Whims of Fate"
- Chapter One -
"Same Place, Different Time"
You're familiar with the tale of Naruto Uzumaki, I presume?
It's the kind of story that I, personally, find myself taking an almost unnatural shine to... that of the trials and tribulations of a dead-last dunce who eventually grows into a strong, capable man in his own way; that of one who overcomes almost insurmountable adversity by sheer force of will, refusing under any circumstances to yield or admit defeat.
But sometimes, at the back of my mind, I have to wonder how events would play out if things had happened differently. If some fundamental element were changed — by some twist of luck, perhaps — would events have played out for the better, or for the worse? Would lives be saved? Would lives be lost?
It's not a question pondered in vain. The possibilities of time, you see, are so vast as to border on infinite. It's easy to imagine, in our own limited, linear perception of the events that unfold around us, that the flow of time is like a river. That couldn't be further from the truth.
Consider this: at conception, a person could be endowed with any number of varying characteristics. Some may be apparent in one or both of the parents; some may be buried unseen amongst the genetic clusterfuck of one's ancestry. And all it takes is one slight twist of fate's unseen hand — one errant seed finding its mark where others, in another time and space, would have found the mark instead — to radically change the person not yet born, their course in life, and how their life affects all of those around them. Their appearance, disposition, personality, latent ability, gender... all of it, decided by the roll of some divine million-sided die.
Would you believe me if I told you that for every possible choice an individual might make, for every possible question of blind chance, and for every single possible ripple in the ocean of possibility, there exists an entire universe?
I have glimpsed one such altered fate already: that of the stoic street-urchin Naruko Uzumaki, a woman whose road could not be any more diverse from that of the blond-haired hellion we're familiar with. That is just one of the vast array of histories that all spring forth from that one gamble of fate. And that isn't even the tip of the iceberg.
So, friends and neighbors: shall we take a peek into the depths of another such world? Shall we take a dive through the looking glass and see what other roads may have been laid down before this legendary ninja of the Hidden Leaf?
Yes. Yes, I think we shall.
It's not as though we have anything better to do at the moment, right?
As before, our tale begins in Konohagakure no Sato, the Village Hidden in the Leaves. Twelve years ago (as you know), a nigh-invincible terror appeared: a Nine-Tailed Demon Fox whose lashing tails shook the very mountains to their core. One ninja of incomparable courage and power rose up and gave his life to thwart this menace... the Fourth Hokage, leader of the ninja of the Hidden Leaf, now revered as a martyr and a hero of the highest order.
This much remains as it always has. What is the first alteration I would draw your eyes to, then?
Why, that's easy. It's the most eye-catching landmark in all of Konoha, possibly in all of the Land of Fire: the great stone faces of the Hokage Monument. These four gargantuan sculptures, eternally captured on the sheer stone face of the mountainside, are visible from virtually anywhere in the small city which (because tradition oft outranks semantics) is for some reason referred to as a "village."
These four faces honor ninja who are considered gods among men — shinobi whose skill, power, and wisdom set them far above the rank and file. Yet what really inspires the awe and admiration of the ninja who serve the Hidden Leaf is neither their skill, nor their power, nor even their wisdom. It is their willingness to defend the citizens of Konoha, unflinching, even unto the bitter end.
These four faces stand tall in the backdrop of the Hidden Leaf Village, and the rising sun shines down on all four. More importantly, they stand pristine... and unsullied.
Nestled in one of the Leaf's less opulent boroughs, in a quaint, run-down apartment building, one Naruto Uzumaki dutifully sits up in bed, making sure to rub the sleep from his eyes before putting an end to the blaring din of his bedside alarm clock.
He had to make sure to wake himself properly as soon as humanly possible, of course, because the red-haired twelve-year-old boy had long since determined that his tendency to sleep in could be nothing less than detrimental if he hoped to be a competent ninja. Living on his own at such a young age, Naruto had no parents or legal guardians to rap on his door and persist in waking him up for him. That was one of life's simple luxuries-in-disguise that he had, unfortunately, never known.
The urge to press the "snooze" button and plop right back down onto his pillow, however, was still not an easy urge to ignore, so instead he let the alarm ring for a good thirty seconds: as it beeped and beeped, it steadily got louder and louder and louder still, until —
Naruto winced and reflexively snapped his hand down on the two buttons required to put a permanent stop to the cacophony. When it hit that volume, there was no way any sane man could avoid at least one intense internal burst of annoyance... which was just enough to get the morning juices flowing.
On that charming note, Naruto thought, I really, really gotta pee.
So he attended to the needs of the body as we all do — yes, ladies, even dashingly handsome shinobi legends must discharge their waste like the rest of us — and then, bleary-eyed, he strolled over to the bathroom mirror and looked himself over.
Meeting his own blue eyes (which were sharp and striking, though he was by no means self-admiring enough to note this on his own), the boy brushed his teeth and then, as he rinsed his mouth, pondered his current conundrum. His left hand drifted up to lightly stroke the whisker-like marks on his cheekbone: an old, impatient habit of his that he had never quite managed to quell completely.
Naruto, you see, was a fairly accomplished student of Konoha's Ninja Academy — not top of his class by any means, but any unbiased instructor would have to admit that the boy showed promise. He was pretty sharp with his shuriken (pardon the pun). He could pull off Transformations like a boss. His performance when it came to academic assignments was definitely top-tier. And the only classmate who could be considered better at hand-to-hand combat was that child prodigy from the Uchiha Clan. The kid had even taken a recent shine to fuinjutsu, the art of painting seals — something that very few shinobi his age ever explored, let alone bothered to pursue as a personal specialty.
Yet, despite this, Naruto had failed his Graduation Exam several times now — because amongst the basic ninja arts that the exam would always require flawless demonstration of... was the Bunshin no Jutsu, or "Art of the Doppelganger." This technique, with which a ninja could create one or more illusionary copies of oneself, was Naruto's Achilles heel. No matter how hard he applied himself (Naruto could outlast pretty much any other student in the class when it came to soldiering through training exercises), how much assistance he sought from the (strangely reluctant) instructors at the Ninja Academy, or even however much advice his longtime friend (the best student in the class, even!) had given him on the subject, Naruto simply could not get this one very basic Jutsu down. This was particularly mortifying, since it was one of the first techniques Academy students were expected to learn once they had basic chakra manipulation down.
This year's Graduation Exam was now only one day away.
As Naruto tied his shoulder-length head of red hair back into his usual utilitarian ponytail, he had to suppress a sigh.
One day. No big deal. I'll just... have to perfect the Art of the Doppelganger sometime within the next twenty-four hours. I'll have to do what I've been failing massively at for the better part of four years... within twenty-four hours. Gods, would someone please, please just kill me now? Quick and clean, if you don't mind. Thanks, that'd be great.
Not one to let glum thoughts rule his disposition, Naruto did what he always did whenever something got him down: he focused on what he was doing that very moment. So for the next few minutes or so, his only thoughts were of the black vest and dark-green pants he dressed himself in (beneath the vest was a standard shinobi mesh undershirt), and his usual fantasy of buying himself a less-dilapidated abode with his mission pay, once he was a top-class soldier of the Hidden Leaf.
Somehow, he managed to hold onto that fantasy without actually thinking about how impossible it was for him to graduate. The human brain works in strange ways, sometimes.
As always, Naruto's eyes remained almost fixed on those great stone faces as he strolled easily, and seemingly without a care in the world, down Konoha's main street. He'd always enjoyed admiring those faces, his idols: images of the kind of proud, stalwart shinobi he strove to be, himself. A couple of times, he'd wondered what the people of Konoha would think if he wound up being the next face to be immortalized on that great stone mass looming over yonder. It was an idle thought that brought a sardonic grin to his real (and quite mortal) face whenever it crossed his mind — as it did now.
And whenever he thought this, his eyes hovered almost exclusively on the stone face farthest to the right — that of Minato Namikaze, the Fourth Hokage. He figured it was a coincidence, and mostly the fault of the sculptor who'd crafted the monument, but... he could almost swear it looked a bit like a spiky-haired version of himself. Especially the shape of the nose and eyes.
Well, whatever. All of that was neither here nor there. He dismissed the thoughts as quickly as they came, as usual.
Of course, there was another reason he kept his eyes fixed on those four faces. For one thing, none of those faces was capable of glaring at you as if you were a humanoid mass of rot, or of regarding you with impassive disdain if you happened to make eye contact by accident.
Keeping his eyes on those great stone faces was an effective way to keep his eyes away from all the smaller, fleshier faces surrounding him on Konoha's main street. If he looked at any of those faces, and one of them happened to look back, it would be with either hatred or disdain. This was something that Naruto was used to, that he had learned to ignore. That said, whether it actually got to him or not, the great stone faces were infinitely more pleasant to look at.
Naruto peeled his eyes away from the Hokage Monument, however, as he neared his favorite eatery in all of Konoha: the Ichiraku Noodle Bar. He always regarded the establishment with a warm smile whenever he passed it, even if he had no intention of walking in at the time. For one thing, the old man Teuchi and his daughter Ayame had always treated him right. The disgust and cold indifference he endured from the rest of the villagers? Walking into Ichiraku's was like walking into another world. Those two, when he made eye contact, would always greet him with a smile.
Somewhere in the back of his mind, a dark corner of his subconscious that he had long since locked and double-locked and determined to ignore, Naruto wondered why such smiles were a commodity in his world...
And here we go: the Ninja Academy of the Hidden Leaf Village. Here was another place in which Naruto could find one or two smiling faces... smiling faces that smiled at him rather than around him, that is. He had arrived, as was his custom, fairly early, so his classmates had begun to trickle into the yard at the Academy entrance, mingling and socializing with each other. Naruto's eyes slid right over the group to the one person he was looking for, who always arrived just a little bit earlier than he did.
Standing alone and leaning against a tree next to a lone swing which hung from a branch on that same tree, quite a bit removed from the five or six others who had bothered to drag themselves out of bed before their mothers had done so on their behalf, was a boy with raven hair and eyes just as black. Dressed in a simple blue shirt and white shorts, he stood with his hands tucked away in his pockets. His expression, as ever, was cold and distant — as if he were staring straight through the Academy walls into some unknown, personal Purgatory.
The red-haired ninja-in-training grinned and picked up his pace. When he plopped his butt down on the swing next to the brooding boy, neither said anything for a long moment; then, the raven-haired boy's eyes came back into focus, and his cold expression gave way to a soft smirk.
Seeing the smirk and taking it for the greeting it was, Naruto chuckled in response; this was their usual substitute for "Good morning."
Thus did the two boys, Naruto Uzumaki and Sasuke Uchiha, fellows in isolation, merely bask in this companionable silence, each pondering their own ponderings and drawing an odd sense of comfort in the knowledge that, mere feet away, was another soul who understood.
It was enough.
At the desk next to him, Sasuke Uchiha's stoic expression changed only the slightest bit. None but Naruto, the only kid in class that could honestly say he knew a tiny bit more than "jack shit" about the Uchiha prodigy, could have interpreted this as a sign of irritation, or even noted the minute slip of Sasuke's game-face at all. For Naruto's part, he could definitely understand the annoyance, if not exactly empathize with it.
The shrill voice that had split the air with its ire was, naturally, one of Sasuke Uchiha's many, many fawning fangirls.
Naruto turned to regard the blond-haired kunoichi wannabe with sardonic humor, knowing the source of her rage. This, too, was almost a daily ritual of sorts: Sasuke was sitting at the last seat in the second row on the far right side of the classroom, and in the only seat remaining next to him was Naruto himself. The fan-squealer standing in the aisle next to him was Ino Yamanaka, and she very obviously had wanted that seat for herself.
"G'mornin', gorgeous," Naruto said with an impish grin.
"You again..." huffed the blonde girl. Her fingers twitched, but this time she refrained from trying to manhandle the redhead who'd so easily trounced her the last time taijutsu spars had come around. "Get out of the way, you flake!"
"Nah," yawned Naruto, leaning back a bit more comfortably in his seat. "Spending the energy to slide out of the way would just be... aw, hell, I'll say it. Troublesome."
Ino's eye twitched at that, and her eyes involuntarily flickered over to the back row, where a certain young man with a pineapple-shaped haircut took a break from looking bored for about half a second to let out a massive, obviously fake yawn of his own.
Then, as if the idea had just come to him in a brilliant flash of inspiration, Naruto grinned a foxy grin, stroked the space next to him with a loving hand, and said in a low, suggestive tone, "There's a free spot right here, if you want it..."
As expected, Ino looked appalled at the prospect of sitting next to... that guy, that flaky-looking girly-man whose sole ambition in life seemed to be to come between her and the object of her affections, but would she let that deter her? HELL, NO!
So Naruto was unsurprised when she wiped her aghast expression away in favor of a sweet, seductive smile and gracefully walked around the three-man desk to lean directly into Sasuke's personal space, elbows unceremoniously supporting her fawning form on the desk in front of him. Naruto rolled his eyes as Ino began her spiel, piling mountains of adoration on her precious "Sasuke-kun." Sasuke did what he was best at... and just ignored the squealing witch.
In almost no time at all, a gaggle of fangirl madness had accumulated in front of the raven-haired prodigy, whose cold indifference never once varied in the slightest as the usual squabbles for his affection broke out amongst the five or six starry-eyed girls gathered 'round them. None of them was happy that Naruto had stolen the prime seat; not a one was willing to compromise and sit next to Naruto in order to get closer to Sasuke. This, of course, was the reason Naruto always sat here. Not only was it a simple way to make his friend's day a touch less tiresome; it was also a private source of endless amusement.
The final part of the daily ritual did not occur until ten seconds before Iruka-sensei kicked off the class (forcing the gaggle of giggling girls to get the hell out of Dodge not a moment too soon, but maybe an hour or two later than Sasuke would have preferred). Ten seconds before that happened, a petite female form, clad in a hooded jacket that concealed most of said form, slid quietly into the spot next to Naruto.
Naruto regarded the quiet girl with his usual long-suffering expression and mouthed "G'morning," not even attempting to make himself heard over the chaos of Sasuke's fangirl fanclub. Hinata Hyuga — a shy girl with indigo hair, pale-lavender eyes, and a light-purple headband tied 'round her forehead — returned the silent greeting with a soft smile and the slightest blush.
Class began then, and the fangirls, mercifully, got the hell out of Dodge. The smallest hint of relief crossed Sasuke's eyes as Sakura Haruno finally peeled herself away from the "love of her life," and Naruto had to make a conscious effort not to burst out cackling.
"Hinata Hyuga!" called Iruka Umino.
Standing in line at the front of the class, Hinata tried (honestly, she did!) to lift one foot and place it in front of the other, but all she managed was an incredibly wimpy fidget of her feet. It didn't help that, right after the sensei had called her name, quiet guffaws could be heard from at least two directions behind her. Having eyes in the back of her head (so to speak) didn't help much, either; if she felt so inclined, she knew she could individually pick out each and every person who had expressed mirth at her expense. It wasn't a small number, and really, what did she expect? She was dead-last, after all.
The sniggering faces rearranged themselves into those of neutral, well-behaved schoolchildren at the first sign of a glare from Iruka-sensei, and not a moment later, Hinata let out a startled "meep!" as behind her, a finger poked hard into a particularly ticklish part of her abdomen, causing her to stumble forward.
She looked back pleadingly at the culprit, Naruto, who simply nodded and gave her a reassuring smile, then gestured at her to get a move on. Behind Naruto, Sasuke locked eyes with the Hyuga girl for a moment — giving her a look that said she could do it (now get the hell out there and get it over with!).
Her confidence bolstered somewhat, she turned toward Iruka-sensei and took a few steps forward. As she settled into position, she tried her darnedest to wipe that stupid, uneasy look off her face and to remember everything she'd learned while practicing with her two friends —
"And... go," said Iruka, clipboard at the ready.
Hinata put her hands together in that most basic of signs, and focused her chakra. For that added boost to her mental focus, she verbally called out: "Transform!"
There was a small explosion of smoke around her body — the class watched expectantly — and when the smoke cleared a moment later, Naruto's teeth shown through in a victorious, laughing grin. The prodigy behind him allowed a satisfied smirk to surface. The rest of the class watched in what could have either been surprise or disappointment.
Hinata Hyuga, the "dead last," had successfully transformed into a perfect replica of Iruka Umino, down to the last detail.
Iruka's eyes showed surprise for a moment, which gave way to a sunny smile. "A perfect display of the Henge no Jutsu, Hinata-chan. Full marks."
The fake Iruka in front of him looked stunned for a moment, and then in another puff of smoke was replaced by an equally stunned Hinata, who walked back to her desk in a daze, barely noticing the foxy grin her red-haired friend gave her as she passed.
Ah, Ichiraku's. If it weren't for that whole nutrition thing, Naruto reckoned he could eat here forever — every meal, every day, without diverting from ramen-mania for even a bag of munchies. Alas, a ninja needed to be physically fit. Oh, well.
Sitting at the noodle-bar with Sasuke to his right and Hinata to his left, Naruto couldn't imagine ever having given a rat's fart what the rest of the village thought of him. Here in his own little corner of contentment, he was happy to slurp up bowl after bowl of pork-and-miso ramen... and darn the rest of the world to Heck for two thirds of eternity for all he cared.
Sasuke quietly slurped up his ramen in that ponderous way of his; Naruto reckoned he was the only person on Earth who could eat ramen "ponderously." Hinata simply stared at her ramen as if she couldn't believe it existed, not touching a drop of it.
Pausing his own feeding frenzy, Naruto cast a sidelong glance at his lady-friend and said, "Go on, Hina-chan, eat up!" He grinned, noodles dangling from his gob. "You finally got it! So eat up! You deserve it."
Snapping out of her reverie, Hinata looked at Naruto, blushing as she always did. "Y-yes, I will." Then, picking up her chopsticks, she said, softly: "Thank you, Naruto-kun."
"It was nothing. I mean, what're friends for? Decoration?" Naruto said, and proceeded to slurp up even more ramen.
Sasuke sucked up his latest mouthful of noodles, savored the taste for a moment, and then looked over at his two friends. "So that's one of you all set to go," he said. "What about you, Naruto? Did you...?"
Not two words into the question, Naruto's faltering expression and slowed pace of eating said it all. Hinata glanced at her crush with a fearful flutter of the heart, and Sasuke frowned before going back to his ramen. Naruto just set his face back to the contentedness of "ramen-mania" and ate with instantly renewed gusto.
That he had neglected to answer the question was lost on none of them.
Author's Note: I just want to state clearly, before I go any further, that neither this nor my other story are being written with even the slightest intent to "fix" canon. I actually love the original Naruto Uzumaki as a character, and for the most part I enjoy the majority of the anime and manga. What I'm doing with this story is more in the way of "playing with" canon. That's not a massive difference, but as they say whenever someone gives someone else a really shitty birthday present, it's the thought that counts. Right?